Hume's Empiricism & Realist Painting Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What is Hume's Empiricism?
  2. Why Hume's Empiricism matters
  3. Realism in painting
  4. How to apply Hume's Empiricism in Realist Painting
  5. Tips for practicing Realism in your artwork

Let's take a journey together through the compelling world of art and philosophy. Our focus today will be on the intersection of Hume's Empiricism and realist painting. We'll explore how these two seemingly disparate worlds can come together to create artwork that's not just visually captivating, but also philosophically profound. So, grab your paintbrushes and let's dive into the world of Hume's empiricism in realist painting.

What is Hume's Empiricism?

David Hume, an 18th-century philosopher, is best known for his empiricist approach. This belief, rooted in the idea that all knowledge comes from sensory experience, is a fundamental pillar of Hume’s philosophy. Let's break down this concept.

The Basics of Empiricism

Empiricism is a theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. Think of a baby touching a hot stove; the child learns from that experience that the stove is hot and can cause pain. This is a basic example of empiricism — learning through experience.

Hume's Take on Empiricism

In Hume's view, our experiences — or 'impressions,' as he liked to call them — form the basis of our understanding of the world. He argued that we can't rely on reason alone to tell us about the world; we need to experience it directly. That's why Hume's empiricism often goes hand-in-hand with skepticism about the power of pure reason.

Impressions and Ideas in Hume's Empiricism

For Hume, there are two main types of perceptions: impressions and ideas. Impressions are immediate sensory experiences, such as the feeling of a cool breeze on your skin or the taste of a ripe apple. Ideas, on the other hand, are less vivid perceptions, such as the memory of that breeze or the thought of that apple. Hume believed that all our ideas stem from our original impressions. This means that the art you create — including realist painting — is rooted in your sensory experiences.

Now that we have a basic understanding of Hume's empiricism, we can start to see how it might apply to realist painting. But before we pick up our brushes, let's take a moment to understand what realism in painting truly means.

Why Hume's Empiricism matters

Understanding Hume's empiricism isn't just a theoretical exercise. It has real-world implications, especially for artists. Let's peel back the layers on why this philosophy is essential in the world of realist painting.

Experience is the Foundation of Art

If you're an artist, think about where your inspiration comes from. Most likely, it's from the world around you, from your experiences. Just as Hume's empiricism suggests, our sensory experiences fuel our creativity. In a way, every stroke you lay down on the canvas is a reflection of your experiences.

Enhancing Observational Skills

Realist painting is about capturing the world as accurately as possible. Hume's empiricism can help you hone your observational skills. By focusing on your sensory experiences and the impressions they leave, you can learn to see the world around you more clearly. This can make your artwork more accurate and detailed.

Creating Art with Depth and Meaning

Art isn't just about replicating what you see—it's about expressing your unique perspective. Hume's empiricism encourages you to delve deep into your experiences and impressions. This introspection can add depth and meaning to your artwork, making it not just a visual piece but a philosophical statement.

By understanding the importance of Hume's Empiricism, you are taking your first step towards incorporating this philosophy in your art. But how exactly can you do that? Our next section on applying Hume's empiricism in realist painting will provide you with a practical guide.

Realism in painting

Now that we've established why Hume's empiricism matters, let's dive into the concept of realism in painting. Get ready to understand what it means and how it has shaped the art world.

The Essence of Realism

So, what is realism in painting? Well, in simple terms, it's all about representing the subject matter truthfully, without any artificiality. No embellishments, no exaggerations — just the raw, unfiltered world as it is. It's like a mirror held up to nature, capturing its every detail with precision.

A Movement that Shaped History

Realism was more than just a painting style; it was a movement that began in the mid-19th century. It emerged as a response to the idealized romanticism of the time, offering an alternative that focused on the ordinary, the everyday. It was a bold declaration that art should reflect reality in all its imperfect beauty.

Realism Today

Realism might have its roots in history, but it's far from outdated. Today, countless artists practice realism, applying its principles to various mediums, from oil painting to digital art. It's a testament to the enduring appeal of realism that even in an age of abstract and conceptual art, the simple act of capturing reality can still resonate so deeply.

Now that you have a good grasp of realism in painting, it's time to fuse this knowledge with Hume's empiricism. Let's move on to the next section, where we'll explore how to apply Hume's empiricism in realist painting.

How to apply Hume's Empiricism in Realist Painting

Let's now dive into the practical side of things. How can we apply the principles of Hume's empiricism in realist painting? Here's a step-by-step guide.

Step One: Observation

Remember Hume's emphasis on experience as the source of knowledge? This is where it comes into play. Start by observing your subject closely. Note the fine details, the textures, the colors — every little thing that makes it real. This is your data collection stage — the more you observe, the more you know.

Step Two: Analysis

Once you have your observations, it's time to analyze. This is akin to Hume's process of forming ideas based on impressions. Look at your observations and try to understand what they mean. How does the light interact with the subject? What mood does the color scheme create? Questions like these can help you deepen your understanding.

Step Three: Execution

Now that you have your observations and analysis, it's time to actually start painting. Remember, realism is about accuracy, so aim to portray your subject as faithfully as you can. Use your observations and analysis as a guide, and let your brush strokes reflect the reality of your subject.

And there you have it! This is how you can apply Hume's empiricism in realist painting. But don't stop here. The beauty of art is in practice. So, let's move to the next section for some tips on practicing realism in your artwork.

Tips for practicing Realism in your artwork

With the principles of Hume's empiricism fresh in your mind, let's look at some practical ways to strengthen your realism skills. Here are a few tips to help you level up your art game.

Tip One: Start Small

Realism is a lot about the details. So, starting with a smaller canvas can help you focus more on the minute aspects. It's like taking a magnifying glass to your subject — you notice things you wouldn't otherwise.

Tip Two: Draw from Life

Photographs can be a handy reference, but they often lack the depth and nuance of real life. Drawing directly from life allows you to capture this richness. It's like Hume's empiricism — you're drawing knowledge directly from your experiences.

Tip Three: Practice Patience

Realism isn't something you can master overnight. It takes time, patience, and lots of practice. So don't be discouraged if your first few attempts aren't perfect. As the old saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day."

And there you go! With these tips in your toolkit, you're all set to practice realism in your artwork. Remember, the key is to observe, analyze, and execute — just like Hume's empiricism in realist painting. So, go ahead and create your masterpiece!

If you're fascinated by the connection between Hume's Empiricism and realist painting, you'll definitely want to explore the workshop 'Classical Painting in the Modern Day' by Eric Drummond. In this workshop, you'll gain a deeper understanding of classical painting techniques and how they can be applied in today's art world, all while exploring the philosophical underpinnings that continue to influence the art scene.